Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump reached out to Indian American voters at an Edison, New Jersey rally Oct. 15 organized by the Republican Hindu Coalition, promising India would always have a friend in the White House if he is elected.
“India is a strategic ally for the U.S. I look forward to deepening the diplomatic and military cooperation that is shared between both countries,” said the candidate, addressing a crowd of 8,000 people at the “Humanity United Against Terrorism” rally, held at the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center.
Outside the Expo Center, a group of about 50 Indian Americans and other South Asian Americans – organized by South Asians for Hillary – gathered to denounce Trump and his divisive rhetoric, which has targeted Muslims, Hispanics, women and others (see separate story).
The rally was billed as a charitable event to support Kashmiri pandits and Hindu refugees from Bangladesh. In an interview in August, Indian American businessman Shalabh “Shalli” Kumar, head of the RHC, told India-West that tickets to the event – which featured several B-list Bollywood stars – would start at $100. But in the final days leading up to the rally, tickets could be had for the “early bird price” of $9.99. Kumar told this publication after the event that a change of venue had led to the lowering of ticket prices, but added that he was satisfied by the full-house which showed up for the rally.
Two polls released last week noted that seven percent of Indians said they would vote for Trump.
Trump came onstage at about 7 p.m., following several dance performances by Bollywood artists. After he participated in the tradition of lighting the diya, Trump shook Kumar’s hand, calling him a “good friend and a great guy.” In July, shortly before the Republican National Convention, Kumar and his wife pledged just under $1 million to Trump’s campaign.
“India has been a great friend to the U.S. in the fight against radical Islamic terrorism,” said Trump, noting that President Barack Obama and Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton have not used the phrase.
“India has seen first-hand the brutality of Islamic terrorism,” he said, uttering his first political gaffe of the 13-minute long speech by confusing the 2001 terrorist attack on the Indian Parliament in New Delhi with the 2008 terror attack in Mumbai, in which ten young militants arriving by sea from Pakistan killed 167 people at several venues throughout the city.
“I love Hindu. I love India,” was Trump’s second gaffe of the evening, when he seemingly declared “Hindu” as a country.
Trump praised Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a “pro-growth” leader, noting India’s seven percent overall growth rate last year, and contrasted that to the American economy, which he said was largely stagnant. The New York businessman also praised Modi for his “bureaucratic trimming,” and pledged to fix the “bloated and corrupt bureaucracies” in the U.S.
Trump also pledged to reform the U.S. tax code, so that low-income Americans would pay no taxes, and businesses would have their tax rates reduced from 35 percent to 15 percent. Standing beside Trump onstage, Kumar vigorously applauded his candidate’s promises on taxation.
The candidate – who has built his base around deporting Muslims and disallowing them entrance into the country, and also keeping out Hispanic immigrants – brought up the immigration issue only once, when he reiterated his pledge to build a wall paid for by Mexico. He also reiterated his pledge to reform “bad trade deals,” noting the U.S.’s current $800 billion trade deficit, much of it to China. He promised to increase trade opportunities between India and the U.S.
“We’re going to have a phenomenal future together,” said Trump.
Kumar told India-West after the event that trade between the two countries would “skyrocket” under Trump’s administration, and opined that Democrats in Congress were holding up such agreements. “India needs billions of dollars of America’s products,” he said, noting the country’s needs for advanced weaponry and energy-based products.
“The major reason for us to endorse Trump is his support for India’s fight against terrorism in the region. We believe Trump is the only guy to go after the source of terrorism and not just sit there and wait for us to be attacked,” said the Chicago, Ill.-based entrepreneur, who claimed that Trump could be “stronger than Reagan.”
The evening’s entertainment featured a performance with dancers dressed as terrorists brandishing laser light sabers.
(This story, originally published Oct. 17, was updated Oct. 18)